Meant to Be (part 3, final)

Of all the weird things I’ve asked people to do with me, I think this one takes the cake.

On one of my annual visits to India I went on a motorcycle tour. It came highly recommended and we were told it would be a really fun time. And it was, but not in the way we expected. We visited the Mother Theresa house, Garbage Mountain (where our motorcycle broke down in front of a pile of dead dogs), a cemetery, and finally, a funeral pyre.

We sat witness to a funeral and cremation of a man and saw the family gathered, grieving but also celebrating. It felt wrong to be there, and we soon asked to leave so that the family could have privacy, though the funeral space was open to the public.

On that same trip, I watched a a hearse went down the street, carrying the dead in a glass car so that everyone could look in.

I started to realize that death in India isn’t the same as death in America. That death in so many cultures is less taboo. Sometimes death is a celebration; sometimes it is a cause for weeks long mourning. Sometimes we put a wall between us and it, or sometimes a thick, ornate wooden box. Sometimes, that box is made of glass, and sometimes those in mourning ask others, strangers, to join in with them.

Death is not such an easy thing to grasp once you’ve started traveling and understanding other cultures. This peek into how death is treated in India gave me pause, and started me thinking about death as a subject for serious introspection. Two years later, the idea for this series was born.

Though these images will not be featured in the final series, it was one necessary step in my exploration. These images were inspired by that glass car in India, and serves as a window – or really, an invitation – to get a little closer to death.

Here I am explaining to Payton how she would get up and into the coffin.

The experience of this photo shoot was all of these things: hilarious, freezing, difficult, dangerous (at times), and above all, absolutely wild.

Testing, apparently, to see if it would fall on our heads.

I had an amazing team helping me. And when I say helping, I mean doing a lot, if not most, of the heavy lifting. My friend Dave Junion had the coffin made locally and we used his forest, his fork lift, and his building skills to get it strung up in the tree. Dan McClanahan lent us his height and strength as we tied the coffin to the trees. KD Stapleton took behind the scenes images and drove some of the heavy machinery. And Randy Verhasselt worked the fog machine and helped work out the electrical wiring.

Isn’t she AMAZING for doing that?!

Not least of all, Payton Bottomley, our model, fearlessly got into that coffin. I got in first to test it, and we did put it through some rigorous testing to make sure she would be okay. She didn’t flinch at the idea, and remained excited before, during, and after the shoot.

Step 1: Put the coffin on a fork lift.
Step 2: Drive the fork lift into the forest.
Step 3: Tie rope onto two trees after the distance has been measured.
Step 4: Raise the coffin to the height of the rope and attach.
Step 5: Pray. (Just kidding, mostly).
Step 6: Set up the heater underneath the coffin to warm it and set up the the fog machine.
Step 7: Test shots.
Step 8: Get model in place.
Step 9: Shoot from every conceivable angle…because we are not doing this again.
Step 10: Hot chocolate and high fives.

And so the shoot went. It took 3 hours from start to finish. It was a beautiful day, absolutely frigid, and we laughed so much we cried.

One of the most exciting parts for me was that I got to shoot from the forklift. Dave operated it and lifted me higher and lower. I would motion to KD if I wanted to move, then she would motion to Dave to move the lift. I was able to get lots of angles thanks to this!

Do you want to know the secret to getting people to do weird stuff with you? Acknowledge that their contribution is worthwhile and appreciated. Be weird…as weird as you genuinely are. People love to hang out with weirdos. Create. Being part of a true artistic creation process is priceless, and a lot of people will recognize that. Give your energy and passion, and you will attract people who are looking to ignite their own energy and passion.

Here is the heater under the coffin to make it as warm as possible. It was only mildly successful, but did help.
Post-shoot laughs!

That’s my secret. I am wildly passionate and energetic about life, and I never fail to find friends who want to help me bring my visions to life. Though these images aren’t going in the series, they will remain a testament to what can be accomplished when your passionate vision gets loosed on the world.

  • January 21, 2019 - 5:29 pm

    Gallagher Green - I want to start with being completely honest. When I was reading the bit about the motorcycle trip my brain read India and Indiana, I was thinking “Who know Indiana was so different.” then the smarter half of my brain said, “You are a moron, it’s India!” LOL
    Anyway.

    You should have called me when you shot this I would have loved to help with “Step 10.” I am the best at the part!
    I have spent a lot of time up in loader buckets, but I have never taken photos from one. I need to though.
    3 Hours seems like really good time, I would have thought it might take longer than that. You always have such a great team around you, and that helps. 🙂
    The images are beautiful, thought-provoking, powerful, and very inspiring. It makes me feel like nothing is over the top. 🙂
    P.S.
    That is a lovely Gehl skid steer! ReplyCancel

  • January 21, 2019 - 5:35 pm

    Vicki Kurasz - Photo #11 is freaking me out. How?!ReplyCancel

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